SAT Gender Gap Grows Again

University Testing

Despite testmaker claims that bias on college admissions tests is not a serious problem (see Examiner, Fall 1997), the difference between the average scores of males and females on the SAT actually increased by two points this year. The gender gap now stands at 42 points, the largest since 1995. On the ACT, the alternative college entrance exam taken by nearly a million high school students annually, the gender gap remained constant at three-tenths of a point on a 36 point scale.


Several recent studies have demonstrated that the SAT underpredicts females' college performance and cheats them of opportunities for admission and financial aid (see Examiner, Summer 1998, Winter 1996-97). Even the College Board admits that females outperform males in both high school and college.


On the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), which was recently changed in response to a FairTest civil rights complaint, the gender gap narrowed substantially this year (see Examiner, Winter 1997-98). The sole alteration to the PSAT was the addition of a multiple-choice "writing test" on which females outscored males.


The contrast between results on these exams make clear that the content of the SAT puts females at an unfair disadvantage. Only by using separate prediction equations which compensate for the SAT's underassessment of young women's abilities can an institution avoid gender discrimination.


Because of this continuing bias, any program which determines admissions or awards scholarships based on SAT cutoff scores is putting itself at grave legal risk by denying females equal educational opportunity. In addition to bringing the successful challenge to the PSAT based on its role in choosing National Merit semifinalists, FairTest initiated a federal lawsuit which struck down New York's use of SAT scores as the sole factor in awarding state scholarships (see Examiner, Spring 1989).